G7 pact to stop using coal by 2035 sets up next battle over gas supplies

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The G7 countries have agreed to a deadline of 2035 to dump the use of coal in their energy systems where emissions are not captured, as surging gas supplies emerged as the next battle in climate talks.

Energy and climate ministers pledged to phase out unabated coal power “during the first half of 2030s” after two days of meetings in Turin.

But it also gave leeway to countries reliant on coal, such as Japan and Germany, by allowing the option of “a timeline consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5C” of global warming above pre-industrial levels.

It marks the first time the G7 economies, which collectively account for more than a fifth of global emissions, had set a deadline for coal. The G7 does not include the world’s biggest coal power consumers, China and India, however, which added the most capacity last year.

“It is a very strong signal from industrialised countries. It is a big signal to the world to reduce coal,” said Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, Italy’s environment and energy security minister.

But the text left open the possibility of continued investment in gas, despite ministers agreeing to transition away from all fossil fuels by 2050 at the UN COP28 climate summit last year. The burning of fossil fuels is by far the biggest contributor to global warming.

The ministers said the “exceptional circumstances” of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the need to shift supply away meant “publicly supported investments in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response”.

The real litmus test for the credibility of the G7 rested on its planning to shift from gas to renewable energy, said Luca Bergamaschi, co-founding director of Italian climate think-tank ECCO.

This meant reducing public support for new gas investment “after two years of record high industry profits and no evidence that Europe needs new infrastructure for its energy security”, he said.

As part of the Turin agreement, ministers also set a global target to increase electricity storage capacity sixfold from 2022 to 2030.

Scientific experts and climate change think-tanks endorsed the move away from coal but were critical of the timelines.

“I don’t believe there’s any move to reduce the use of fossil fuels that matches up to the nature of the crisis. And we do have a crisis,” said Sir David King, former UK chief scientific adviser and founder of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, an independent body of scientists.

Stacked bar chart showing global coal capacity by region from 2000 to 2023 showing that less capacity was retired in 2023 than in any single year since 2014

Last year was the hottest on record both on land and sea, while each of the past 10 months has also set temperature records. The global average for the 12 months to March was 1.58C above the 1850 to 1900 pre-industrial average. This is distinct from the Paris goal, which is for a long-term rise of no more than 1.5C measured over more than a decade.

Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s climate minister, said the agreement showed the G7 was taking seriously the outcome of the UN COP28 summit in Dubai, where countries pledged to transition away from all fossil fuels.

But analysts said much more work was needed to turn the plans into domestic policy, and noted that the document failed to go far enough on finance for the shift to clean energy.

At their next meeting in June, ministers needed to “signal their intention to help mobilise the greatly expanded financial resources needed by developing countries to both decarbonise their economies and cope with the mounting impacts of climate change,” said Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate think-tank E3G.

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